Bob Walters of the Bay Area Audiophile Society often refers to Jim Salk's loudspeakers as one of the best buys in high-end audio. Certainly I have never heard them sound better in a show context. Using an AVA ABX switch ($1499), Salk Audio switched between three of its speakers: Salk Silk Bookshelf ($3499/pair), Salk Supercharged SongTowers ($3495/pair), and, the largest Salk SoundScape 8s ($7995/pair). The 8 uses the same RAAL ribbon tweeter, Accuton midrange, and 12" passive radiators as in the two larger SoundScape models (not shown), albeit with two 8" drivers.
Although Soundsmith brought to Chicago the very same system it exhibited at RMAF in Denver last October, there was nothing has-been about the sound. In fact, sonics that I often find enticingly romantic, as on the slightly warm side, this time sounded far more neutral, yet infused with the glow that makes Peter Ledermann's cartridges and electronics so special.
With Benchmark's high-value DAC1 D/A headphone amplifier getting a little long in the toothour original review was in July 2003it was good to hear the new DAC2 HGC ($1995) at Axpona. The DAC2 uses an asynchronous USB2.0 interface, will decode DSD files, has five digital inputs, two single-ended analog inputs, balanced and singled-ended analog outputs, two headphone outputs, and features a hybrid analog/32-bit digital volume control that preserves resolution. Analog signals are never digitized; digital signals never pass through an analog potentiometer; yet both analog and digital volume are controlled with a single knob.
In the second Kyomi Audio room, E.A.R. USA's Dan Meinwald was doing an effective dem of the Marten Django XL speakers ($15,000/pair) that Erick Lichte favorably reviewed in September 2012. He used a prototype CAT tube amplifier, a CAT SL1 Renaissance tube preamplifier, and an Esoteric K-1 DAC with standalone clock fed audio data from Amarra. Cabling appeared to be all Magnan. With the Swedish speakers set up firing along the room's diagonal, low-frequency room modes were tamed and vocal music blossomed, whether it was Peggy Lee singing "Fever," Paul McCartney singing a demo of "Mother Nature's Son," or Neil Young live from Massey Hall.
Allowing Showgoers to calibrate their ears as he has done at prior AXPONA shows, pianist John Yurick did a great job in the DoubleTree's lobby. Sunday afternoon, as I was leaving for the airport, John was joined by someone playing standards from the American songbook on a chromatic harmonicluvverly music!
When Steve Davis told me that people were hungry for an audio show in Chicago, he wasn’t kidding. What Davis believes to be over 4000 attendees2000 tickets had been sold before the Show openedvisited over the course of three days, March 810. They mobbed many of the rooms on Saturday and actually managing to keep things lively in most of the rooms I visited on the 8th floor on Sunday. And that was with people having to choose among 90 exhibit rooms, a bunch of table displays, an art show, multiple seminars, and lively marketplace that together extended over five floors of the Doubletree in Rosemont (Ground, mezzanine, and all of floors 7, 8, and 9) near O’Hare Airport. (My thanks to John Atkinson for standing outside in the pouring rain to get the photograph of the hotel.)
I don’t know what the sound was like at Chicago’s last consumer audio show, sponsored by Stereophile, which took place in the Palmer House Hilton in the Loop in 1999, but at the Doubletree, a large number of dealers and manufacturers managed to produce good to excellent sound within the confines of hotel rooms that they had never before exhibited in.
With deepest apologies to Scarlet O'Hara, and perhaps even deeper apologies to the Deep South and Bad Pun Police, it's time to toot the horn of Morrow Audio of Northern Kentucky. Mike Morrow (on the left), who began the company in 2006, came to AXPONA with Larry Love (on the right) to proudly announce Morrow Audio's partnership with Legacy. Morrow, who initially started out as a Legacy dealer, has seen his business grow 25%/year. Currently selling direct on the net, he and Love have plans to start a dealer network. When? Well, tomorrow is another day.
As Halie Loren sang her distinctly un-Peggy Lee version of "Fever," I reflected on how much I love the color and warm of Unison Research electronics. The internal glow of the sound, and the sweetness of the electric keyboard, especially stood out. Yummy.
The following morning, Friday March 8, the line of Showgoers formed at the will-call booth at least an hour before the official 1pm start of AXPONA. More than 2000 tickets had been presold and the exhibit rooms were full until the end on Sunday March 10.
Walter Schofield had lots to smile about besides his new trim and fit look. The great buy Wharfedale Jade 5 loudspeakers ($3199/pair), fed by an Avid Ingenium turntable with Pro-Ject arm ($1750) and Ortofon 2M Black cartridge ($719), Avid phono preamplifier ($7000), Marantz SA-15 SACD player ($2000), Marantz 150Wpc integrated amplifier ($2500), Audioquest Columbia interconnects, and PS Audio power stripthere was more, but I can't decipher my notesproduced a really nice midrange on Madeleine Peyroux's "Dance Me to the End of Love." The sound may have been euphonic, but it was also euphoric; the music swung so compellingly that I couldn't stop tapping my foot.
Just as I was about to chat with the good folks from Music Direct and Musical Surroundings, what did I happen upon on the mezzanine level but an animated conversation between Stereophile's editor in chief John Atkinson and two of AudioQuest's finest, Joe Harley (left) and Shane Buettner (right). (They were discussing Art Dudley's recent review of the Beatles LP box.) In Buettner's happy hands, at my request, is a sign about Stereophile's Budget Product of 2012, the AudioQuest DragonFly.
For many of us, the luscious equipment combo from Rochester, NY-based Your Final System would make our lives complete. I certainly wouldn't kick it out of bed, metaphorically speaking, though I don't know how the spouse and two dogs might react to all of this in the living room, let alone the bedroom. Pause for breath as you take a look at the line-up below, then grab a calculator and add it all together. I would, but my hands are too shaky from typing everything up.
Here we go: Your Final System HD Ref 3 Limited Edition Music Server System ($14,500), EMM Labs DAC 2X ($15,000), Purity Audio Ultra GT preamplifier ($53,000), bi-amplification of upper frequencies by KR Amplifiers SXi Mk.II integrated ($21,000) and lower frequencies by Channel Island Audio D200 Mk.II monoblocks ($3500/pair), Von Schweikert Audio VR-100XS "Universe" System with towers and two EX V15 subwoofers ($140,000), four additional EX V15 subwoofers ($10,000 each), MasterBuilt Signature Series speaker cables ($7500/pair), MasterBuilt Signature Series interconnects ($3600/pair) and power cables ($6200 each) and dual-headed powered USB cables ($4000), GIK Diffusers ($350 each), ASC Tube Traps ($450 each), ATS Acoustic Bass Traps ($150 each), ATS Acoustic Studio Stackers ($200 each), and a mere $37,000 worth of Critical Mass Systems equipment racks and stands.